Monthly Archives: January 2014

Things that matter

For some reason over the last week or so I’ve been drifting back towards the organisational blogs (reading them, not writing them). I’m not sure why, but I’ve been avidly reading about how people set out their diaries, organise their pantries, fold their laundry… it may be because there’s a preponderance of these types of posts with it being a new year. Or perhaps I’ve been seeking this kind of thing out, after all, we have some big changes coming up and what better way to ease the stress than be organised?

This afternoon while Master and Miss L (both) slept (at the same time, yes, I know!) I found myself reading a post about a lovely-sounding Californian blogger’s fridge. How she cleaned it, organised it and, finally, photographed it in all its tidy glory. I read all about how she “hates” packaging and so she unwraps her fruit & veggies, throws away the shop’s plastic bags and packets, washes the fruit & veg, then places it into her own plastic bags (or disposable tubs, which I bloody well hope she re-uses). As I scrolled down the page there were photos of her fruit bowl (empty and full), a plastic container full of (washed) baby carrots and then, finally (before I closed the page) her kitchen sink, half full of water, with apples, blueberries and strawberries bobbing around in it (allegedly these are the fruits that “really” need cleaning…. Do they? Maybe in North America but not here they don’t).

I couldn’t believe I was wasting my precious “me” time looking at this stuff. I mean really, the only time I EVER wash fruit or veg is if you can actually see SOIL on it. I fed Mr L a caterpillar last week because I didn’t bother washing the herbs from our garden (or, more accurately, the garden from our herbs). What a completely unnecessary exercise. Not to mention a waste of time, water and, in this lady’s case, plastic!! So I got up from reading this blog to do something useful. My laundry cupboard has had a strange smell coming from it for the last few weeks, it’s gross. So I took everything out of it and wiped it down, waited till it dried and then put everything back again (Actually, no, I rehoused 2 cans of dog food and 3 unused nappies). The offending odour-emitter remains a mystery. I also made a batch of MYO (make your own) washing powder. Hopefully it’s better than the liquid version I made, as I have a whole box of soap flakes and sodium carbonate to use up…. I then tidied a shelf, updated my to do list, and sat back down at my computer, feeling slightly virtuous that I had got up and “done something”.

So the afternoon ticked along pretty much to plan, the only glitch being Master L’s tantrum at the shops when the ride-on car he considers “his” was occupied by another child and I decided I would not indulge him by hanging around waiting for the other kid to get off, I would teach him that life’s not fair, sometimes you miss out on car rides and the like but life goes on and you come back tomorrow. You assume.

So I was feeding the kids dinner and my phone pinged with a text message. I wondered who it could possibly be as Mr L was home already, finishing some work upstairs. I actually thought maybe it was him texting to ask me to put the kettle on. I wish it had been.

Instead, it was a close friend of mine sending a group text announcing that her leukaemia, first diagnosed 10 years ago, had relapsed again and was now involving her brain. She apologised for the text but said the last 72 hours had been so emotionally exhausting, being diagnosed and then telling her and her husband’s families, that she didn’t feel she could speak to anyone else. I’m not a haematologist, but her prognosis must be pretty bleak. My first thought when she rang me after she was initially diagnosed in 2004 was “She’s going to die”. Ditto in 2011 with news of her first relapse. Just the other day I was wondering how it must feel for her to live with the shadow of the possibility of yet another relapse over her head and was she really “cured”?

I have felt irrationally guilty both times I have told her I was pregnant, each time she came to see me each time in hospital after giving birth and every time she has asked to hold my babies, because she can’t have her own. Medically it was not always out of the question and after her first treatment and supposed “cure” she was trying to get pregnant, but very early on she admitted to me “I don’t want to have motherless children” and I knew that, despite her positive outlook and brave face, she recognised that my (pessimistic) view of her long-term prognosis was not an unreasonable one. Countless times I have felt bad complaining to her about grizzly kids and not enough sleep and early mornings and never have I genuinely envied her nice dinners out, her business class flights, the things you just don’t do with children. The price she has paid for those luxuries is just too high.

She’s not the only person who’s made me think about what matters, about how very lucky I am, about how, in a moment, it’s all gone…. Not even 6 degrees of separation, but just one degree away, awful, awful things happen to people… a university acquaintance of mine took his own life, one of my work colleagues died of a heart attack at 36, leaving his wife 6 months pregnant with their 4th child, a school friend of mine is currently struggling along with a rare incurable lung cancer. Stillbirths, miscarriages, kids with cancer (actually, anyone with cancer), people’s husbands dying in freak accidents…

I think about how fragile we are when in a moment- the moment the lab technician looks down the microscope at a field full of blast cells, the moment the atheromatous plaque ruptures in the left main coronary- it can all be whipped out from under us. They’re everywhere, examples of the transience of life and how precious our time here is.

And so I say to myself, on days like this… who cares if someone chooses to wash their already-clean fruit (and write about and photograph it?) Who cares if my laundry cupboard smells? Who cares if Master L wakes me up again tonight for milk he really doesn’t need and I get 15 minutes less sleep? Because these are not the things that matter. The things that matter are cherishing the time you have, the people you love and the world around you. Because one day, you will be gone.

I know we can’t go round all the time being grateful and not sweating the small stuff and all that crap. I’ve already talked about the “living in the moment” philosophy. I know I will go back to reorganising the wine glasses in the cupboard by category, to straightening the hand towel in the bathroom (yes, I’ve seen Sleeping With The Enemy) and to complaining about things that really don’t matter. But someone I once worked with told me “It’s a wonderful world and you’re in it”… and today I’m reminded how very true that is.

Future Perfect

What we use to talk about the past in the future, eg “By this time next month, several changes will have come about.”

I get the feeling there’s a shift happening at the moment. You know, when things in your life change, subtly or not-so-subtly and you feel like you’re entering a new phase and that life’s moved on.

More often than not it’s because there are several small shifts that coincide. I guess for this to happen at the start of a New Year is not that unusual. In Australia, as well as the calendar year flipping over on January 1st, so does the academic year. Most people have a break from work over the Christmas and New Year period and so have a small rentrée even if their return is essentially to the same routine.

For me, this year, the change that’s brought about solely by a new calendar year has been magnified by several other small (and medium-sized) changes. Mr L’s parents were visiting for 10 days over New Year and left today to return to the UK, and so we are feeling that strange post-holiday feeling of going back to real life. Mr L returns to work in 2 days and faces some probable big changes this month and this year, of the exciting but also challenging kind. Master L starts preschool in 2 weeks, which his mother’s really excited about even if he’s not really that bothered about it. And then I go back to work after 8 months’ maternity leave to face all the challenges that go along with time away from the workplace: being out of the loop and then trying to rejoin that loop when my other life (as a mother of two) is what preoccupies me most of the time.  And on top of all that, Miss L cut her first tooth on January 2nd, just a reminder that her life is charging rapidly on too.

This unique feeling always makes me stop and take stock. It’s a combination of excitement and trepidation, a product of new plans and partly-answered questions. I’ve always been a planner and a goal-setter, which I suppose explains my previous attitude to resolutions (in short, I’m a fan but for a more in-depth discussion, follow that link). At the same time I’m a sentimentalist at heart, I cherish my past and hold dear memories of things I’ve done and people I’ve known. I’m not sure how the two go together, this love of looking to the future but also remembering the past….

I know it’s very in vogue to live in the moment and the popular quote which goes something along the lines of “The past is already gone, the future is not yet here. There’s only one moment for you to live, and that is the present.” seems to be what the pop-psychologists tout. I think there is a certain amount to be said for that. I’ve often been nostalgic for times gone past and those are often the times I haven’t appreciated as they were happening. Possibly a case of looking back with rose-coloured glasses, but maybe if we put those glasses on to look at the present and appreciated the moment as it’s happening, we’d prevent a lot of the regret that comes with looking back and realising how good you had it. However, what I don’t think is realistic is to feel you have to cherish EVERY moment. All those Mummy blogs that tell you not to wish it away because in the blink of an eye it’s gone- yep, some things, sure, but there are moments (hours and days even) of drudgery, boredom, tedium and even unpleasantness where you just kind of hang in there. I think trying to make people feel they are squandering their lives (or, rather, their children’s lives, which is the usual implication) for not “living in” all of these moments is a bit unfair.

I wonder as well, how you are meant to get the most out of life if you don’t spend at least some of your time thinking about the future? I don’t see how you can achieve much at all if you don’t make plans, think about how they’re going to come to fruition and what’s more, be motivated by the anticipation of making them come about.

And so I like this feeling of shift, it’s exciting. It reminds me that things are moving on and so I take a moment to notice how things are now because they won’t be this way again. Then when I do look back I can say, without regret “Yes that was a happy time but now I’ve moved on to more happiness”.

As JFK said, “For time and the world do not stand still. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”

NYRs

I am a resolution-maker from way back. As a child, I loved going back to school. Apart from the fact that I was never terribly good at entertaining myself so got bored by about day 3 of the summer holidays, each back-to-school was a chance at a fresh start, to miraculously transform myself into something perfect (the inevitable and exponential annual deterioration somehow forgotten/denied/justified). I made New Year’s resolutions and birthday resolutions… not to be naughty, never to cry again (I’m not sure why this was such a point of shame but for some reason crying in front of other people was one of the biggest embarrassments I felt I could suffer as a child), to keep my room/desk/locker tidy, to wash my face every day, to be more “grown-up” (ironically I think if I wrote a list now it’d include “be less grown-up and more fun”), to always write neatly…. In fact, the handwriting resolution was renewed with every new exercise book throughout the year.

Albert Einstein is famed (among other things) for saying insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Every year I made these resolutions and, no surprise, every year I broke them. They were often the same old resolutions re-hashed, gaining a veneer of maturity as I got older, but essentially they were all in the same vein- be healthier, be nicer, work harder, ie BE BETTER.

Resolutions are great for making you think more about the way you want to live your life and what you think you can improve on, but they set you up for failure, really. You can’t be bothered exercising January 3rd and you’ve “failed” the daily exercise resolution. Ah, well, only 362 days until you can renew that one. You finish the last piece of Christmas cake on New Year’s Day- bang, there goes “eat healthily”. Essentially, a conventional list of New Year’s Resolutions sums up the perfect being you think you want to be without really giving any concession (or credit) to the flawed, busy, conflicted, trying-your-best (well ok sometimes) being you actually are.

And so I think it was the year I turned 30 that I decided “enough with all this”. Instead of writing a list of resolutions, I set myself some goals for the year. Some of them were a bit lame- I think I resolved to “go out more” and “meet new people” which are probably almost as pointless as “write neatly all the time”- they are as vague as the old ones were specific and therefore set themselves up for failure because they aren’t really very well defined and when you can’t define what you’re trying to achieve you can’t really achieve it.

But that year I decided I’d do a half marathon. There was some consideration as to “how” (run 3 times a week, follow training plan x, y or z- I suppose you could call them “sub-resolutions”) but my goal/resolution/whatever you want to call it was simply “Do a half marathon”. And I did. I didn’t run 3 times every week. I did follow training program x, y AND z, as well as a to w, sporadically and inconsistently. But I did it. I ran 21.1km in roughly 1 hr 50 minutes. It was the furthest I’ve ever run and as I was crossing the finish line in the Opera House forecourt I felt strangely emotional. The same kind of feeling I’ve had after accomplishing anything major despite the fact that your preparation is never perfect and you’re not quite sure you’re going to make it, you somehow do. (I’ve done loads more halves since, it’s my favourite running distance and is no longer the big deal it was to me then but I think therein lies another lesson- or blog post- about challenges and perspective and lots of other blogworthy themes.)

Since then, I try to think each year of what’s coming up and what I want to do in the year ahead. My list isn’t necessarily full of “goaly” goals- the items on it might include a holiday that’s already been half-planned, developing a hobby I already have (such as “do a photography course”) or even just an event that’s happening in my life that year (eg June: give birth). I try to make sure there aren’t too many of them and that they are some of the things a good goal should be- realistic and time-specific and all that self-help speak. Some of them get crossed off when I realise they’re not quite right for me this year- maybe they’re unnecessary, unrealistic or simply something I’m not prepared to put the time into just yet. Sometimes life goes off in a direction you don’t predict earlier in the year and your list needs to be amended. It’s kind of hard to always foresee where you’ll be in December when it’s only January, that’s part of the fun.

And so I’ve been thinking, “What’s on the cards for this year….?” My list is only half formed, there’s a big(ish) question mark hanging over the second half of 2014 at this point and things are about to change big time for the little Ls and myself when I go back to work in 3 weeks.

So let’s just say my list’s a work in progress and for the moment, to be continued….